PITTSBURGH - The Pittsburgh Penguins have already won a Stanley Cup Playoff series this spring without getting much offense from Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.
Chances are they're going to need the two forwards to break out at some point, however, if the Penguins are going to get past the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Eastern Conference Final. It would certainly make Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan's job easier if it happens in Game 2 of the best-of-7 series at Consol Energy Center on Monday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports).
"Obviously, when they score goals, it gives our team a better chance to win," Sullivan said during a conference call Saturday. "I don't think that's earth-shattering news."
The good news is that, though the Penguins lost 3-1 in Game 1 on Friday, there were some encouraging signs from Crosby and Malkin.
Crosby, who has one even-strength point in his past seven games, made a nifty between-the-legs pass to set up Patric Hornqvist's power-play goal in the second period and made a few other nice plays when the Penguins were on the man-advantage that did not lead to goals, but again was unable to make an impact five-on-five.
"I just think we didn't execute as far as the chances we got," Crosby said after Game 1. "We didn't give up a ton, but the ones that we gave up were pretty good scoring opportunities and they capitalized and unfortunately we didn't capitalize on enough of ours."
Video: TBL@PIT, Gm1: Vasilevskiy moves left to deny Crosby
Malkin, who has no points in the past five games, was as dangerous as he has been since he had two goals, two assists and six shots on goal in Game 3 of the first-round series against the New York Rangers. He led all players Friday with seven shots on goal and a whopping 17 shot attempts and was a force, carrying the puck and making plays.
Malkin came up empty on the score sheet again, however. He also took an ill-advised, offensive-zone hooking penalty, leading to Ondrej Palat's power-play goal 2:33 into the second period that turned out to be the game-winner.
"We tried," Malkin said. "We scored one goal, but we had a couple more chances. It's tough because it's a playoffs. The (defending) team plays five players close to the net."
As they have often in their careers, Crosby and Malkin made it look easy in the first round. Crosby, a Hart Trophy finalist, had three goals and five assists to help the Penguins dispatch the Rangers in five games.
Malkin also started the playoffs strong with three goals and six assists in his first six games after returning from an upper-body injury that kept him out of Game 1 against the Rangers.
But, the production dried up in the second round against the Washington Capitals. Crosby (two assists) and Malkin (one goal, one assist) combined for four points in the series, which the Penguins won in six games mostly because of the goaltending of rookie Matt Murray and the 18 points they got from their third line of Carl Hagelin (three goals, four assists), Nick Bonino (two goals, three assists) and Phil Kessel (two goals, four assists).
Throughout that series, Sullivan maintained that Crosby and Malkin were doing more to help the Penguins win than their point production indicated. That was his message again Saturday, along with a profession of faith that, if they continue to play this way, it is only a matter of time before they start piling up the points again.
"We believe it is and what we've tried to reiterate to both Sid and Geno is that they have to just continue on trying to focus on playing the game the right way and taking what the give us and not trying to force plays that aren't there in order to try to score goals," Sullivan said. "When they play the right way, they're very difficult to play against, they help us on both sides of the puck and they're talented enough players that we think that they'll score for us."
Video: TBL@PIT, Gm1: Vasilevskiy seals the Lightning's win
It has long been a fact of life for Crosby and Malkin that opponents will try to get certain matchups in an attempt to shut them down. On Friday, Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman and partner Braydon Coburn were on the ice for most of Crosby's even-strength shifts and got help from the third line of Cedric Paquette, Brian Boyle and Ryan Callahan.
That left more favorable matchups for Malkin, who had more open ice to work with but wasn't able to finish. At some point he's probably going to need to turn some of those chances into goals if the Penguins are going to advance to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 2009.
"We believe that these guys are going to continue to play hard for us," Sullivan said. "When they do, they're going to make us a better team. They always get the attention of our opponents' top players and top checkers each and every series. It's no different with this series. That's part of the burden of being an elite player in the league.
"These guys have grown accustomed to it. We just have to find a way to be successful through this process."